California Police and the Use of Deadly Force: Reasonable vs. Necessary

Think for yourself: before an officer shoots your son, should they consider less lethal alternatives? Should an officer only shoot if it is necessary?

These are loaded questions at the root of a proposed bill in California, AB 931 which asks the legislature to change the current restriction on the use of deadly force from when it is “reasonable” to when it is “necessary.”

It should come as no surprise that California is the first state to propose a more stringent standard. After all, we carry the highest rate of officer-involved shootings in the nation.

In 2017, police shot and killed 162 people in California, only half of whom were armed with guns.

California police departments have some of the highest rates of killings in the nation: Bakersfield, Stockton, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino are all in the top 15.

In 2015, law enforcement officers in Kern County alone killed 13 people. During the same period, nine people were killed by the NYPD in all of New York City, which had almost 10 times as many residents and about 23 times as many law enforcement officers.

What is going on?

Perhaps an inquiry into the administrative policies is needed to understand why officers in Kern County are so quick to pull the trigger.

Recently, a video was released from a 2006 campaign meeting of Sheriff Donny Youngblood of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office where he discusses the financial impact to the county when a suspect is shot and injured as opposed to shot and killed. In the video he comes to the appalling conclusion that it is better to shoot to kill, at least financially:

“You know what happens when a guy makes a bad shooting on somebody and kills them? Three million bucks and the family goes away after a long back and forth,” Youngblood said.

He went on to say: “Which way do you think is better financially – to cripple them or kill them – for the county?” An unidentified man offscreen said “kill them,” to which Youngblood replied: “Absolutely. Because if they’re crippled we get to take care of them for life. And that cost goes way up.”

This is unacceptable. Taking a human life should never come down to considering financial loss, especially when those considering it are paid to protect and serve!

When the leader holds such a belief and isn’t afraid to express it, it only follows that the officers that work for him are quick to pull the trigger. Especially when the present standard is whether it was reasonable to use deadly force, i.e. would the officer’s peers do the same in the same situation?

Perhaps the time has come to enact a policy that requires consideration of life and less lethal/deadly alternatives. A policy that promotes the need to shoot to protect the public and/or the officer as opposed to what we have presently, simple justification after the fact.

Do you want an officer to justify why he shot your son or to choose not to and to use other means to apprehend him?

Read for yourself: below is the purpose of the AB 931 that was pulled from the actual text of the legislation.

AB 931:Criminal procedure: use of force by peace officers.

Existing law authorizes a peace officer to make an arrest pursuant to a warrant or based upon probable cause, as specified.

Under existing law, an arrest is made by the actual restraint of the person or by submission to the custody of the arresting officer.

Existing law authorizes a peace officer to use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape, or to overcome resistance. Existing law does not require an officer to retreat or desist from an attempt to make an arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance of the person being arrested.

Under existing law, the use of deadly force resulting in the death of a person is justified when it was necessarily committed in overcoming actual resistance to an arrest, when it was necessarily committed in apprehending a felon who had escaped from custody, or when it was necessarily committed in arresting a person charged with a felony and who was fleeing from justice or resisting arrest.

Existing case law prohibits the use of deadly force by a peace officer unless, among other criteria, there is a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another.

This bill would limit the use of deadly force, as defined, by a peace officer to those situations where it is necessary to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death to the officer or to a third party, as specified. The bill would prohibit the use of deadly force by a peace officer in a situation where an individual poses a risk only to himself or herself. The bill would also limit the use of deadly force by a peace officer against a person fleeing from arrest or imprisonment to only those situations in which the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed, or intends to commit, a felony involving serious bodily injury or death, and there is an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or to another person if the subject is not immediately apprehended.

This bill would make a homicide committed by a peace officer justifiable only if the use of deadly force by a peace officer was necessary given the totality of the circumstances, as specified, but would exclude those situations in which the gross negligence of the officer contributes to creating the necessity.